I’m currently CEO and Chairperson for DESCO, a medical equipment service and staffing organization serving 14 states. I had to guide the company through a turnaround and elevate my impact as a leader within DESCO. I’m pleased to say that now the company is healthy, growing, and with recent acquisitions of other small companies, we are over six million dollars in annual revenue.
I became the company’s COO in 2005 and struggled for a number of years to shift the company’s performance from a general decline. I saw that we had to shift the culture of the company, not just its processes. I interviewed customers that had terminated our services, and what they told me showed a raft of problems: we didn’t back up our promises, communication and our team coordination around customer problems were absent or poor, we lacked a relationship of partnership with the customer, and what the customer could expect was unclear. This was my starting point to design our turnaround.
We started by making it clear from the outset that we wanted to partner with our customers. We now deliver what we promise. We have shifted our customer retention annual rate from the low eighties to over ninety-four percent. We have produced a similar improvement in our employee retention.
I saw that our business and customer issues needed to be addressed by a ground-up culture change with a focus on customer value, satisfaction, and effective teamwork. We had to focus on the customer satisfaction part of our service, not just the technology. I shifted our hiring to select people who could deal with owning a promise, with disagreements, and with teamwork. We shifted from a culture of technical experts to high-performing teams. In this process, I began to apply my learning from the Generative Leadership program, saw the value of having a coach in the program, and went through my own fundamental shifts as a leader.
I began as a quality assurance manager in 2000, and later moved to head business development, and later still became COO. I learned that my success strategy in work was to do everything myself, that I had to solve every problem myself, to do whatever it took, and to take my work worries home with me. I was usually anxious, disconnected at home, exhausted, and would zone out with a glass of wine. I was a super-performer, but the results kept deteriorating. I learned that others didn’t think like me, that I had to meet them where they were at, and that I had to get my standards clear. I discovered that there were missing conversations that I had to learn how to have and that teams are grown in these conversations.
I learned that my emotions and the emotions of others are part of the process rather than symptoms that something is wrong. I learned that I’m human and not superhuman and to be okay with that. I learned that the power was in the team and teamwork and that the key skills were conversations where we made and shared promises, took care of breakdowns, and supported each other’s success. We went from a culture of data and tasks to one of conversations, coordination, and customer satisfaction. I learned that managing mood is unavoidable and huge for company culture, and of course, I had to first learn to manage my own moods to produce trust in my team.
In the learning about teamwork and culture, we have produced a company that has doubled its revenue, tripled its net margin, improved all of our operational and customer satisfaction measures, and became a growing business. We now contribute to charities and have programs to give back to our communities. What I am most proud of is that we have created a culture of pride in our teamwork and in the value we create for our customers.
As part of the generative leadership journey, we explore what we and what others care about. It’s the foundation of value and meaning. That exploration also inspired me to see my passion for enabling high school age kids to have the benefit of the same kinds of learning and development that I learned in my leadership journey. I had a particularly difficult experience in my high school years with coping, self-esteem, and finding my own dignity in learning and in finding my own identity. Seeing these challenges also show up for my three sons in their school experiences has led me to found the Lead Yourself Youth, a learning and leadership curriculum, in 2016.
At Lead Yourself Youth, we are adapting generative leadership lessons and experiences to support youth to take a self-empowered healthy path in their own development. We show students where they have choices they didn’t think that they had and help reveal other blind spots. We help those we support, provide a safe and open space for students so they can learn how to cope with difficult conversations, find what they really care about, and how to feel okay to express themselves in conversations with their peers, parents, and teachers. The youth we work with light up to have real conversations about their stresses, their choices, and what they should think about.
This has been a huge gift for me to find what I care about so deeply and to design my time and energy to take care of the future of my company and contribute to the youth of my community. My home and family life has prospered through this learning. In learning to design and build winning games and winning teams, I am in design conversations for how to continue to extend our contributions to community involvement, economic development, leadership development, and youth development. I’m pleased to have learned to be a generative practitioner of creating the future with others.
Andrea is also giving back by being a program coach in the Generative Leadership Program with a select few participants. She is also participating in the Generative Apprentice Program where she is developing her own framework for generative adolescent development.